Jordan Harper is one of those authors for whom you can pinpoint exactly the first time you encountered him. For me, it was back in 2017, when I plucked his debut novel She Rides Shotgun off the Barnes & Noble shelf and began reading—and kept reading, line after potent line, every word precise and devastating like savage poetry. I took the novel home and devoured it, and then I immediately got my hands on his previous work, the short story collection Love and Other Wounds (previously self-published as American Death Songs)—an in-your-face assemblage of hard-edged tales that play with perspective and tone. In the stories, you can see an author preparing for big things, and whereas She Rides Shotgun pays off that promise magnificently, it didn’t exactly propel Harper onto the bestseller lists (although it did give him a rabid cult following). No, the book that is going to give this author the widespread attention he deserves is his new one, Everybody Knows.
If She Rides Shotgun is a series of long slow thrusts of a blade into the heart, then Everybody Knows is a flurry of quick stabs to the gut. The influence of James Ellroy is strong in this one, which perhaps is to be expected, considering that one of Harper’s most recent projects was penning (and executive producing) an L.A. Confidential pilot in 2019. (For more background about this author, check out my comprehensive “Interview with Jordan Harper, Dark Poet of SoCal.”) Everybody Knows is one of those rare punch-to-the-gut novels that knocks you out with its style—and then lingers thanks to its characters and its powerful sociopolitical subtext.
Harper has always been a master of perspective, evidenced by both his previous short and long work. Here, he gives strictly “two-hander” alternating points of view to his main characters, Mae Pruett and Chris Tamburro. Toughened nearly to the point of sociopathy, as if their minds and speech have been clipped and hobbled by inhabiting the same diseased environment for way too long, Mae and Chris share a tumultuous history—but are soon thrust back together by a series of very unfortunate events. We meet Mae first: She expertly performs “black-bag” public relations for a hush-hush Hollywood crisis-management company, quickly and quietly taking care of situations in which celebrities and other high-profile clients have gotten out of hand in their extracurricular activities. She’s about to get her world rocked by a shocking crime involving her boss, and she’ll find herself deeply involved in a Hollywood drain-spiral that only Chris can uniquely handle. For his part, Chris is a disgraced former L.A. County deputy sheriff, now working as hired muscle for a private security company. These are strong characters, ethically and morally and (in Chris’s case) physically flawed—but retaining that little chunk of heart that makes them still human.
The writing craft in Everybody Knows is some of the absolute finest I’ve come across in the crime genre. Harper hasn’t wasted a single word, as if he composed the book one vicious tweet at a time, or as if he’s rediscovered the black haiku crime poetry of authors such as Andrew Vachss or, yes, James Ellroy. For all its economical 320 pages, it positively flies by, burning in your hands, its pace quick and absurdly satisfying. Harper trusts his reader to divine his plot machinations, which are often doled out two steps ahead of your awareness. The characters that populate this vision of Hollywood are real flesh and blood, wounded and fragile despite the fact that they’re battle-hardened by years of bleakest cynicism.
Everybody Knows is also sneakily conscious of today’s political climate—particularly as regards southern California. There’s a significant subplot in which homeless encampments are being bombed—potent truth bombs that punctuate the main plot with reminders of the yawning chasm between the have-nots and the voluminous numbers of have-lots inhabiting Los Angeles. In a novel that burrows so convincingly into the awful undercurrents of what Mae calls The Beast—the sinister protective web of crooked lawyers, shady security firms, and assorted belligerent toughies—it’s perhaps inevitable that the book will shed harsh light on the awesome inequities of the town. There’s rampant misogyny and opiate abuse and corruption, and of course the less fortunate remain guttered.
On every page, Everybody Knows exudes a brutal confidence, an alchemical brew of heady, precise style and reprehensible subject matter. The dark poetry of Harper’s writing draws you in, but the criminal behind-the-scenes machinations of Hollywood constantly both repel and fascinate. It’s a brutally one-sided tug-of-war inside a landscape already frothing with moral decay; it’s a power struggle that’s already long decided and boiling with end-times resentment. Everybody Knows is one of those perfect genre novels that places a certain type of story into an ideal tinderbox setting, and Harper manages the trick with aplomb. The result is what could be an instant neo-noir classic.
Watch for Everybody Knows to grace film screens. Set against the backdrop of sunny, idyllic Hollywood we all envision, not to mention our dreamy notions of the glamor and glitz of the celebrity lifestyle, this rat-a-tat-tat tale of corruption and rot, of diseased power and rotten riches, is a natural for the silver screen—despite springing from inside Hollywood itself! And you bet your ass who’s gonna adapt it.